Keep It Simple (and direct)

Transit services should be designed so that a new user can quickly and easily figure out when and where they will board and exit the vehicle. We get ourselves in trouble when we try be all things to all people. Rather than ultimately helping no one, we should recognize that we can’t please everyone and instead focus on creating simple service patterns that fulfill the basic needs of most potential passengers. Nobody will ride a bus that pulls up to every house -- it just takes too long -- but many people will use a bus that comes within walking distance of their house. Unfortunately transit operators are often expected to directly serve civic and retail destinations even when doing so requires deviating from the main route and/or creating complicated variants of a route. Civic services like hospitals and government buildings may present a compelling case for service while in reality attracting few riders and delaying through passengers. Deviations may be warranted in low-density areas but should be minimized, kept short and easily understandable and served consistently. If you’re going to deviate into the supermarket parking lot, do it all the time so that passengers always know where to wait.

That last point is important because while variants can make service more efficient and effective, they can also confuse a lot of people and make the service more difficult to use. The most uncomfortable part of using transit is waiting for it, not knowing if or when the bus will arrive. Why make people also wonder where it will stop? Don’t assume, as too many operators do, that “our (current) riders understand it” and that’s good enough.

It can be tempting to compromise simplicity and directness in the hope of providing greater coverage. However, unless all passengers are purely joy riders, we’ll need to skip a few places if our priority is getting the most people from A to B quickly and efficiently. To meet this goal we should focus on providing high quality, simple and direct services that help as many people as possible.